Tabletop Gaming Space
People talk about game rules and social contracts and spotlight time and a dozen other interaction-facing things much, much more often than they talk about having an actual space to play tabletop game.
So, as I sit here in a 20×21 dedicated gaming room, with two 5-foot-long, 2.5-foot wide tables in the middle, several office chairs, a slew of stacking padded church chairs, ceiling fans, led lights bright enough to power solar calculators (which mattered when we designed the room 24 years ago), it’s own refrigerator, a computer hooked to a sound system, and bookcases on every wall, I wanted to talk a little about what I find useful in a physical gaming space.
This isn’t a must-have list or some professionally surveyed best answer. It’s just what I have found over my 40 years of playing tabletop games, as game to me today in no particular order, and generally using my current main gaming space–a dedicated gaming room in the house I’m living in–as a point of comparison.
This may seem obvious, but it’s still worth thinking about. Especially if you have people with disabilities, what may work for you for 4-6 hours or more of sitting might be torture for other members of your group. Also, think about sturdiness. Not just for regular use (our gaming chairs see many more hours per week of sitting than the dining room chairs of my childhood home ever did), but for the people you want to have over. I’m a heavy guy — more than 450 lbs. on average — and I’ve lost track of the number of times I have been invited by people to hang out at their place where all they have are thin folding wood frame or aluminum tubing chairs. Those do not safely hold me. Consider who you want to make accommodations for, and give people an opportunity to tell you if they need something nonstandard.
Our game room is 3 steps down from the rest of the house. We have railings, and happily pass things up and down for folks having issues with the balance or steadiness, but I still wish our space wasn’t sunken in that much.
We’re pretty central to our town, which is a plus, but not particularly close to public transit. Some people walk here for gaming. Some carpool. But an easier way for people to arrive would be a help.
We have the game table in the middle of a big room with two ways in and out, so mostly people can walk around without bumping into people. But when we cram 9 people in for the big Tuesday Night game, it’s cramped. We can’t even get everyone at the table if the whole crew shows up.
How much tablespace you need depends a lot on the needs of the game you play. If you are wanting to have Starfinder games where sniper rifle ranges are relevant, you may need a ton of space for miniatures and terrain. If you’re playing Dread, everyone needs to be able to reach the tumbling tower, and it (probably) ought to be on stable level surface.
We have a table-topper that puts a 2 ft. x 3 ft. space up about 4 inches off the center of the table and can slide and spin. that’s great for letting people pull the map closer to them and turn it to see what is going on behind a shack or hill, but also means we can’t really have many drinks on the main table, and laptops often have to be closed as the table topper is spun. We also have TV trays, which people can use as additional space for books, dice, water bottles, and so on.
Our space is large enough that even with 9 people rammed in, the AC and ceiling fans and tower fan can keep us pretty cool, even in summer. But it takes 4 AC ducts, 2 returns, two ceiling fans, and 1 tower fan to do it. If a space is likely to get too cold, it can be worthwhile to have blankets and fingerless gloves as options. If it’s going to get too hot, plenty of water, and be understanding if folks decide they are just unwilling to get too hot while trying to have fun.
Once of the nice things about a dedicated game space is that it serves as the geeky visual center of the house as well. There are miniatures and maps and game books on shelves, light sabers and swords and starships hanging on the walls, a fleet of sailing ships on top of one bookcase, plastic towers, mountains, and a 3-foot wire-frame oil derrick on other furniture. The walls have framed posters of comic books, movies, and game magazine covers. Overall, it helps put people in the mood to play games.
You often can’t go this far–kitchen tables and living room coffee tables are much more common as play spaces, and those often need to serve aesthetic desires beyond “look geeky.” On the other hand, some people go much further, with faux-stone walls, stuffed dragon heads, and wallscapes of fantasy forests with distant castles.
Whatever your options, think about little things that can help put people in the right frame of mind for the game you want to run. Even just having a GM Screen for a specific adventure or game system, or a single small prop tied to a game’s theme (like a model of the PC’s starship, or miniatures of the allied royal court, or a picture of the fungal ghouls destroying civilization) can help make a game space feel tied to specific campaigns, even if those props have to be put away between games.
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